London is always a key battleground at general election time in the UK and never more so than this time around with a close result forecast. Accounting for around 12% of seats in the House of Commons, the capital is the focus of the national campaign, having the seat of government at its heart. With a record population approaching 9 million people (not far off the entire population of Portugal), the greater London area returned a majority of Labour MPs in 2010 with 38 seats against a total of 28 for the Conservatives and 7 Liberals.
The political map is generally red in the central areas surrounded by blue and yellow through the suburban, outer areas. There are exceptions of course – Westminster and the City of London are always Tory along with Kensington and Chelsea and somewhat more surprisingly, areas like Harrow and Ealing have Labour MPs.
There are some 39 political parties putting up candidates across the UK plus various unaffiliated individuals and London is not short of variety on offer either. The Monster Raving Loony Party has party founder, Alan ‘Howlin Laud’ Hope standing against the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson in the Uxbridge constituency and there are candidates from the Workers Revolutionary Party, the European Party, ‘Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol’ and the Class War parties all fielding candidates in the capital!
A few famous names will disappear from London’s parliamentary scene this time around as they are stepping down. 79 year old, Oscar winning actress, Glenda Jackson who has held the Hampstead and Highgate seat for Labour since 1992 is retiring along with Frank Dobson, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Tessa Jowell, the former London Olympics Minister.
But what are the main issues for voters in London? The economy seems to be a strong factor and the Conservatives’ perceived economic competence puts them way out in front on this. Labour is ahead though with young people and those from ethnic minorities, particularly with their mantra of ‘Guardians of the National Health Service’. The average Londoner is 34 and with some 3 million Londoners not born there, this is a problem for the Tories. Another burning issue is the high cost of affordable housing in the capital with both major parties offering ‘solutions’ for this. Immigration remains a hot political potato in the UK but in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities on earth, UKIP, who campaign on these issues, are trailing in polls. Not helped of course by a lower level of hostility to Europe in the city. Labour’s proposed ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth over £2M will hit a lot of Londoners with a fear that this will, perversely, drive more ordinary families out of their homes only for wealthy foreigners to move in.
All the polls indicate the Liberal vote will be squeezed in London but a central and popular aspect of their campaign in London is transport policy which seems to strike a chord with voters concerned about air quality and the environment. Current Business Secretary Vince Cable’s Twickenham seat though is high on the Conservatives’ target list of constituencies and they are predicting a ‘Portillo moment’ on May 7!
An exciting and sleepless night beckons for those of us sad enough to be really interested in all this nonsense!
By Richard Lamberth